One of the most common misconceptions I see online in the abuse recovery community are people posting that psychological abusers are just wounded people who don’t know any better. Victims to their childhood abuse who went on to hurt people similarly. You know the saying, “wounded people, wound people.” As a certified trauma therapist, I find this assumption to be false about psychological abusers and would like to unpack the topic a little more than can be done in an Instagram comment section.
I want to make it clear that both forms of abuse, emotional and psychological, are damaging to the victims, create life chaos, and are unacceptable in any relationship whether that be in a family, romantic relationship, among peers, at work, or in a place of worship.
The driving motivations behind emotional and psychological abuse are where the two topics split from one another and victims need to be well-versed in the underlying reason for the behaviors.
Can someone be both an emotional and psychological abuser? For me, the clinical answer is no. It is one or the other and depends on why the individual is behaving in harmful ways.
Let’s look at the differences.
Emotional abusers react out of their core wounds that have never been healed. They can trace back where they learned maladaptive coping skills and are continuing to hold on to them into adulthood.
Emotional abusers are authentically remorseful for their actions. They know something is wrong in the way they react to every day stressful situations. They are truly embarrassed by their behaviors.
It’s not that emotional abusers don’t know any better. They don’t know how to do any better. There is a huge difference between these two.
Emotional abusers hold a deep sense of shame about their brokenness and how it manifests in their life and those who are close to them. They know they are perhaps repeating verbal abuse patterns they loathed while growing up in an unstable home.
Emotional abusers may have an untreated, or poorly regulated, mental health diagnoses that can make maintaining stable moods a true challenge. I do not include personality disorders in this criteria. Diagnoses such as bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD, or major depressive disorder can cause someone to have unregulated emotions that can cross over into unintentional emotionally abusive behaviors.
Emotional abuse is a common byproduct of addiction and chemical dependency. The addict’s life focus is on feeding their addiction and can become incredibly emotionally abusive in the singular pursuit of their drug of choice.
Emotional abusers often have chaos in many areas of life functioning. Maintaining a stable, calm existence is a challenge for many people who are also emotionally abusive.
Emotional abusers can change.
They can learn new coping skills that give them the tools to stop themselves before lashing out verbally. They can go to addiction treatment and live a peaceful life, clean and sober. They can do the daily work to maintain their mental health in a way that keeps them emotionally stable and regulated. I will say it again for emphasis, emotional abusers can and do permanently change for the better.
Psychological abusers never change.
Psychological abusers believe their assessment of you, and everyone else around them, is correct. They are not open to learning new coping skills and why would they? In their assessments, they are as close to perfect as someone can be and it is everyone else who needs the help.
Psychological abusers will pretend to be remorseful for some of their abusive behaviors, but no lasting change ever comes. They always return to their toxic baseline. Their “regret” is a façade to keep the victim in the relationship and available for more abuse.
Psychological abuses blame other people for their actions. They rarely give an authentic apology for being abusive because to do so would be to admit they are flawed just like everyone else.
Psychological abusers enjoy the game of making people frustrated. They create chaos on purpose because they find it entertaining to watch those around them react.
Psychological abuse is rooted in power and control of those around them.
Psychological abusers do not have other true mental health or addiction issues that could be the cause of some of their abusive behaviors. They choose to harm out of their free-will. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not the same diagnosis category as bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD, or major depressive disorder. NPD is not a true mental health, biochemically-based, condition. It is a personality disorder. I believe NPD is not a brain-based malfunction, but repeatedly choosing not to express empathy for others. If trauma can change brain function, not living in an empathetic manner could, and does, as well.
Psychological abusers know when to turn on and off their abusive behaviors. They are always trying to fly under the radar so no one can pinpoint their actions and accurately accuse them of being an abuser.
Psychological abusers are in control of their actions. Their lives tend to be high-functioning, or at least normal functioning. They can manipulate people around them into meeting their needs, while selfishly not being concerned by the needs of others.
These are but just a few of the differences between emotional and psychological abuse. The motivation of behaviors should help victims better understand what they are facing and make life choices that are right for them.
There are no excuses for any abusive behaviors going untreated or unchanged.
Remember, keep dreaming big!
As a therapist, I work with people on a variety of topics that can range anywhere on the intensity spectrum. Some individuals want to work on setting and reaching personal development goals, while others seek me out because I’m a certified trauma therapist and they’ve walked through the searing fire of life-altering experiences. Even though the spectrum of counseling is wide, there are several common themes that may be present, such as a wave of grief that often accompanies reaching new levels of healing and growth.
As the therapeutic process continues, people begin to see a transformation happen within themselves. They can point to tangible evidence that shows they’re getting healthier and feel themselves coming to life from achieving their goals. Each person who reaches this place of growth expresses heartfelt gratitude, but can also be surprised that the other emotion they’re now feeling is grief. This grief centers around the years lost and wasted moments that feel unredeemable. Often, this grief can turn into self-blame for feeling like you could’ve done things differently or not waited so long to begin making healthy choices.
With all growth, whether after trauma or personal development, there comes a wave of grief. It sounds like, “Why didn’t I do this sooner? Why did I let myself live like that for so long? How could I have wasted so much time? How could I have been so blinded by what was happening?”
While we don’t expect sadness to accompany reaching a milestone in our growth, it’s a common experience. Once we’ve tasted the goodness of restoration in an area of life, we kick ourselves for not having made the changes sooner. In order to fully enjoy our growth, we must address this new grief.
The good news is that the bouts of sadness that come with growth are often short-term. It’s not the sort of grief that lingers and drains your soul. If addressed properly, growth grief should only last a few weeks. Once acknowledged, this grief dissipates rather quickly because regret isn’t the same as a fresh trauma experience or remaining stuck without hope for change. It’s sadness for what could’ve been sooner.
I believe the grief would linger longer if growth wasn’t the catalyst. In other words, if change hadn’t already taken place, the sadness would be a present issue, not looking back at lost days. The sadness would be about being stagnant, not having already overcome. This helps move the growth grief needle along quickly and for that, I’m grateful. It would be terrible to work hard at making lasting changes only to get trapped in a box of shame for what could’ve been sooner. What a complete waste of time and effort towards growth.
Radical acceptance is at the heart of moving past any grieving experience that’s associated with personal development. Once we feel regret settling in, we can move forward by acknowledging exactly what’s been lost during the years of stagnation or trauma wounds. This form of acceptance doesn’t mean we force ourselves to be okay with the harm done. Not at all. Radical acceptance means that we face our sadness, regret and feelings head-on and that might be confusing after reaching a positive milestone.
Any personal growth we experience must be celebrated because it’s not easy to change our habits and hang-ups. As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. All we need to do is look around to see plenty of people who aren’t putting in the hard work to change themselves for the better or find true healing post-trauma. If you’ve been confronted with the unsettling emotions of regret and sadness after the high of personal growth, be gentle with yourself. You worked hard to achieve the healing, so don’t allow this new season to get bogged down by unnecessary shame or regret. Change happened when you were ready, so enjoy and embrace every moment.
Keep Dreaming Big!
We are afraid to tell anyone.
We are afraid to talk about the details.
We are afraid of being blamed.
We are afraid.
Women have had horrendous things implied about them, said to them and done to them. Many of these actions were abusive and illegal. Yet, millions of women around the globe have been afraid to speak. Too afraid to tell the truth. Worried that their words would not be taken seriously. Silenced by the power their abuser could wield in, and against, their lives.
In 2016, we debated the power of abusive words by those in leadership. In 2017, women spoke up en masse about the abuses they had personally experienced. In 2018, we witnessed women continuing to speak up and, yet, being silenced through personal attacks on their character and even threats of harm against them.
To keep reading more of this blog, please visit: Why Women Don’t Speak Up About Abuse
With the release of my second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, I’ve received many questions about what exactly qualifies as economic exploitation and abuse. Little is written and even less is published on the specific topic of financial abuse, so I understand the confusion that currently exists.
Where is the line between normal struggles with money within a marriage or family, and when does it become exploitative and abusive? Why is addressing financial abuse an important topic to highlight? Why haven’t more authors tackled this subject sooner and shed light on behaviors that impact so many people around the world on a daily basis?
Why does there seem to be an almost apathetic attitude about financial abuse, as if it’s just a norm that can’t be fixed within an unhealthy relationship?
These are questions that we need to address head-on so that the individuals and families being harmed by a financial abuser can get the help they need and deserve. A new path is being forged in this area and defining exactly how economic control works is at the heart of why I wrote Exposing Financial Abuse.
It’s very important to remember that there’s a wide range of behaviors that should be considered toxic when it comes to money and how it’s used within relationships. As the understanding around financial abuse increases, so will the conversations about it. For now, I want to highlight three key components of economic harm.
Family Court Fraud
Does your ex-spouse suddenly stop paying child support as a means of furthering their abuse and control over your life? Did your ex-spouse hide his or her income from being included in the calculations for child and/or spousal support? Does your ex-spouse use the family court system as a tool of threats and further harassment?
Within the family court system, lies are being accepted without any consequences. Toxic ex-spouses are able to hide money, lie about their actions related to the couple’s joint money, and use the court system as a means of control against the victim spouse.
Rarely does a financial abuser within the family court system receive legal or economic punishment for not following the Court’s orders related to money. Abusers go on and on with their toxic agendas and drag the victim spouse along for the very expensive ride.
Why is exposing financial abuse important? Ask anyone who has been the target of family court fraud how it impacted not only their financial stability, but their emotional and physical health as well. As a trauma therapist, I can tell you that some of the most devastated clients I’ve worked with have been those who endured an intense legal battle with an economic abuser.
Do you carry the full burden of making enough money for your household because your partner refuses to maintain steady employment? Are you blamed for creating financial stress but are not the one who overspends? Were or are your finances impacted by someone who used hidden ways to sabotage your financial stability?
Covert control is one of the most surprising ways financial exploitation takes place.
Most people who have read Exposing Financial Abuse have shared that they were shocked by how many different ways someone can cause hidden harm to household finances. Passive control looks like someone intentionally causing debt to keep the family budget so tight, the victim partner doesn’t have enough money to leave the toxic relationship. Hidden abuse in the form of economic control happens when a spouse hops from job to job and it’s always someone else’s fault. They take no responsibility for being chronically unemployed or under-employed for what’s needed to meet the family budget. Sabotage is often at the heart of a covert economic abuser. They try to ensure that their victim can’t gain financial stability. Their actions may be hard at first to pinpoint as abusive, but over time, the pattern can clearly be seen and is usually the financial wreckage they leave behind.
Were lines of credit taken out in your name without your consent? Has your partner moved money from your joint account to a secret individual account without your prior knowledge or consent? Were or are you denied access to bank accounts by your abusive partner?
The aggressive financial abuser is what we’ve come to think of as the stereotype – the person who holds all the access to the family money and decides how it’s spent. Overt control can include withholding normal items like clothing for children that fit properly or basic needs even though the family budget is more than enough to cover these things.
Dominance in the form of controlling money creates a very unhappy world for the target, which is precisely the goal of most overt economic abusers.
They want to be the ones who pull the strings as the puppet-master to those closest to them. We don’t have to understand why they find entertainment out of this power, we just have to recognize it to be true. A smirk or an ugly laugh often gives their abusive intentions away.
We’re on the cusp of a breakthrough in knowledge and exposure surrounding the hidden world of economic control and abuse. Please join me in writing about this topic, speaking up if you’ve been a victim of this form of abuse, share quotes on social media, and talk to your co-workers about financial abuse and how it impacts its victims. Do what you can in your circle of influence to expand the awareness of this hidden world and help break down the apathy that currently keeps its victims in the shadows.
Keep dreaming big!
I am very excited to share the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series has been released!
Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon is now available on Amazon (paperback, Kindle, and Audio Book).
Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, you will be given the opportunity to pull the curtain back and see into the lives of those who have been financially harmed by someone close to them. Being able to take a closer look at this hidden world is a unique gift that cannot be taken lightly or without honor for those who have chosen to allow us to peek into the most personal aspects of their lives.
Test yourself. How would you describe financial abuse? It is quietly happening all around us and is hidden within our neighborhoods and communities. You probably know someone who lives within a financially abusive household and you don’t even know it.
What is financial abuse?
Has your spouse or parent taken out lines of credit in your name without your consent?
Does your ex-spouse suddenly stop paying child support as a means of furthering their abuse and control over your life?
Has your partner moved money from your joint account to a secret individual account without your prior knowledge or consent?
Do your parents use financial gifts as an open door to demand future compliance on your part?
Are you blamed for creating financial stress, but are not the one who overspends?
Did your ex-spouse hide his or her income from being included in the calculations for child and/or spousal support?
Have your religious leaders said that you must give to the church first, even if that means you cannot provide for your household’s basic needs?
Do you carry the full burden of making enough money for your household because your partner refuses to maintain steady employment?
To order: Amazon